Whose gold is it?

Over three weeks have passed since the stunning heist of US$11.5 million in gold from a Guyanese boat on the Dutch island of Curacao and local officials are still tightlipped.

Despite the size of the loss, no one has come forward to claim the gold—a clear sign that it was smuggled in a clandestine operation that avoided taxes and official paper work.

When contacted yesterday Curacao Police spokesman Reggie Huggins told Stabroek News that there are no developments as far as the island’s police department was concerned.

While local authorities have said that there is no evidence that the gold is linked to Guyana, there are two clear leads which can blow the case wide open.

The first is that the crew of the boat is Guyanese and this apparently was not the first time that they had made a run of this sort. Sources say that the key to the entire caper would be rigorous interrogations of the crew to determine where they picked up the gold and who they dealt with. In terms of jurisdiction, the probe is in the hands of the Curacao authorities but the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) did have two officers on the island, who should have been able to have access to the officers. Local authorities have not yet said whether they sought access to the crew for the purposes of a Guyana-led investigation. They have returned to Guyana, Stabroek News, was informed but no information has been released about their findings.

Efforts to contact Minster of Natural Resource Robert Persaud yesterday proved futile.

When questioned on the crew Huggins said they were not being held by the police and he did not know why they have not yet left the island. The police there would not release the names of the crew members since they stated that the investigation was a sensitive one. However, a crew member who gave his name as Raymond Emmanuel reportedly told the Associated Press (AP) that the crew left Guyana on November 26, bound for Curacao.

According to AP, Huggins did not say who owned the gold but he said it was a legal shipment that was being transshipped via Curacao and that officials on the Dutch-administered island had been told in advance that it was coming as part of normal security protocols. He declined to reveal the eventual destination of the shipment.

Observers note that for Guyanese authorities, the need to discover the origins of the shipment is important as it may expose the oft-suspected major smuggling of gold from this country.  On the other hand, the sources say the authorities may be in the quandary of not wanting to acknowledge the depth of the smuggling and having to press serious charges against some of the major players here. The sources note in recent days there have been stepped up messages urging that miners here sell only to authorised dealers and pay all of their royalties.

The sources add that in the early days of the investigation there were suggestions that the gold may have originated in Suriname but to date since the heist on November 30 there has been no statement or interest by Paramaribo in the shipment. Neither have local operators there claimed the gold.

Spokesman of the Suriname Police Force Humphrey Naarden told Stabroek News yesterday that he will comment on the issue on the issue on Thursday as at the time he did not have the required information.

However, a police source in the neighbouring Dutch Island informed that there are no investigations from that country because they do not believe the gold originated there. “We do not believe the gold came from this country because no one has made an official complaint to police.

It is very funny that people would say so because our people do not have to smuggle gold anywhere in the world because it is not expensive… our government has not said anything on this matter either because they too know that [it is] not [from] Suriname,” the source said.

Another tangible lead is the disclosure by police commissioner Leroy Brumell that the boat in question is known here and is owned by a Guyanese.

It was last known to have been here in June this year. The sources note that this provides an avenue for tracing its movement from wharf to wharf and discovering what plans were charted for travel.

Brumell had said that the vessel arrived here on June 17 and left on June 19. According to him, police had received information on the owner – a name and an address – but that person has not yet been located. Stabroek News was also given an address but when it was found that location was an empty plot of land taken over by bushes.

Sources had told this newspaper that there is no registration record of the vessel at the Guyana Maritime Administration Department (MARAD). It is unclear how in spite of this the local investigators have been able to obtain a name and address for the alleged owner.

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